Top generals worry Chinese could use hypersonic weapons during a nuclear attack

The top officer in the nation’s largest land and sea combatant commands fear China could use its hypersonic weapons to surprise an adversary by using them during a nuclear attack.

“China’s development of nuclear armed and capable aircraft launched vehicles has potential to dramatically change global strategic stability,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein wrote on Thursday in a national security message.

Goldfein joins in warnings of China’s growing hypersonic capability after a series of recent tests. In February, China demonstrated its Air-Sea Battle concept by launching a space-based hypersonic missile into orbit as a counter-missile shield and strike.

Earlier this month, China conducted its second glide test in under a year. Defense officials say it is a game changer as the Chinese learned how to control and maneuver a non-nuclear glide vehicle. They said it enables China to “either be preemptive with an attack, or to kill a significant portion of an adversary’s forces, assets, or personnel.”

Last December, the Air Force released data showing Beijing tested the Xiuzhong rocket-propelled glide vehicle (RPFG) during a Nov. 10 test.

Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, the head of Air Combat Command, told reporters in February that China’s development of “space-based and hypersonic weapons” is a “capability that would change the dynamic of competition.”

“Most of our discussions of space are talking about space where we are having to be constrained by assets in places like [global positioning satellites],” he said. “Hypersonic is doing something else entirely. China’s pursuit of space and hypersonic capabilities dramatically alters the calculus in space and impacts the nature of our discussions in space.”

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